What I Didn’t Give My Daughter for Her Birthday {A Less Digital Life…Day 8}


One morning a few months ago, while I snuck upstairs for a quick shower, my three year old did a little sneaking of her own. By the time I came down, she had located my iPad in my office, seated herself on the couch, opened to the Doodle app and turned on the blues station on my Pandora radio without me teaching her how to do any of it.

I long ago removed the Angry Birds game from my phone because I got tired of sharing my phone while we waited for our food in restaurants. I started saying no about videos in the van, and there came a point a couple of weeks later when the kids stopped asking. But the iPad is a different story.

There are some good things on the iPad. She’s learning her letters with Super Why. Through Doodle, she can draw and erase without killing a tree in the process. She’s practicing pitch recognition through the games in Music Learning Lab. And it can be a good way to occupy her if there’s a task I really need to get done. But when she wakes up in the morning asking for the iPad and asks for it every twenty minutes thereafter, I want to open the back door and scoot her out into the fresh air and tell her to think again.

Back in the early 90s, I was the one with the tech addiction. I want to smack myself silly now, but I remember many a glorious summer day when I’d be inside for hours looking for the P-wing or trying to make it through ice world in Super Mario 3 when I should have been out ripping another pair of jeans while hopping over the neighbor lady’s fence. We hadn’t bought the Game Boy yet, so at least I could leave my video game habit behind when the family went out for dinner.

I don’t want my kids to be technologically illiterate, but I do want them to be different than their peers who stare down at devices at home, at restaurants and in the transit between. Dave Ramsey has a saying, “Debt is normal. Be weird.” I think that carries over from the financial arena to the parenting one: Tech obsession is normal. Be weird.

We’ve done some of that. Elliot didn’t watch a single cartoon until he turned two. And while I tried to keep Farah’s baby gaze away from the television when big brother did start to watch Thomas and Curious George, I wonder if the greater familiarity with that kind of media has made it easier for her to fall for the screen.

A few weeks ago at the bookstore, my husband and I saw the perfect gift for our little tech addict’s birthday: her own kiddie tablet pre-loaded with over 80 game apps. I knew if I put a bow on that thing, I’d be her best friend for life. Or would I?

In my office, I have a notecard with a list of four legacies I want for my children. At the top is “enjoying God’s creation more than man-made objects or media.” So, guess what I didn’t get my daughter for her birthday…. Yep. We left the tablet on the shelf at the store.

It’s enough to deal with prying her fingers lose from my electronics. We’d rather her not have her own. Instead, we picked out something halfway between our two sets of preferences…a little Hot Dots electronic pen that coordinates with phonics books and cards. (Now, if any of the grandparents have a tablet wrapped up for her party on Saturday, I guess they’ll be her best friends for life.)

Best of all, on her fourth birthday today, we spent some time at our favorite outdoor history museum and let her get back in touch with a more natural way of life. If that kind of living isn’t normal, I want us to be weird.

lessdigitalHere’s a little Internet break for you. Right now, before you do anything else online….
Find a flower. Smell it. :)



{I’m linking up with Nester for her annual 31 Days blog get together. Don’t want to miss this series? Be sure to subscribe by entering your email in the box on the homepage sidebar. Find all posts in the series here.}

13 thoughts on “What I Didn’t Give My Daughter for Her Birthday {A Less Digital Life…Day 8}

  1. Good for you! With 2 girls 14 & 11, we really missed the technology craze. We don’t own an iPad. We went to dinner with friends awhile back and COULD NOT believe all the families sitting at a table together NOT talking but all starting at a screen–even the ones in high chairs! Whoa! Such a different world. I used to bring crayons and coloring books to restaurants with us to entertain the girls. You go girl! Love the Dave Ramsey quote.

    • It is alarming, isn’t it Karmen. My husband and I play a game on the road and in restaurants, counting the number of people we catch looking down at their screens. I understand that we adults may need to coordinate things with our devices, like stopping to tell someone where to meet us, etc., but we are definitely conscious of how much time we’re fiddling with our phones (especially when we’re both on ours at the same time) with how ridiculous it looks when others do it. As for the kids, we still do the crayons and paper and our children love it.

  2. That’s a great point! I see how technology has impaired teenagers’ social skills, but I’ve never thought how it would affect younger children. My nephew doesn’t go almost anywhere without a movie or some other distraction. Overall, my parents do a great job at encouraging his imagination by playing outside, with other toys, etc. but they still rely on technology to help entertain him sometimes.

    • I use it for a fallback plan too if I need to occupy the kids, but I bet if we didn’t have a TV, we’d do just fine. How do you feel about your dependence on technology? I think you and I are ten years apart, and I am on that line between the Internet generation and the one before as I got my first email address when I started college and didn’t see the web until then either (although, like I said above, I had plenty of electronic media distractions in my childhood…video games, computer games, etc.). Do you think you and your peers struggle any more than I do with resisting the constant pull of the digital life? Also, be sure to read my Happy Hybrid post as I mentioned you there. Are you still experimenting with real film in your photography?

  3. Our church did a conference a year ago called “Reclaim” and it was about reclaiming your family and dealing with technology. Every time we are out and one of us is lost in our iPhones, the other person will simply say “reclaim” and we are snapped out of it. It is a daily struggle.

  4. We don’t have an Ipad or an Iphone or videos in the car. We have one working TV in the house. I am all for what you are saying because I want my kids to understand the art of social interaction without their heads in a phone, like most of today’s society. We enjoy markers, the outside and running around the house. Well said, darcy.

    • “I want my kids to understand the art of social interaction without their heads in a phone, like most of today’s society.” Exactly. That’s what scares me–we have yet to see just how all this is going to affect our kids generation. At least my kids will be able to converse with your kids even if everyone else is inaccessible. :)

  5. I know where you headed for the birthday girl’s outing! What a terrific way to celebrate a low-tech childhood. :)

    Some friends have zero technology for their kids; others go all-out high-tech. We started, well, I guess medium-tech, because we let the kids watch plenty of PBS children’s programming and videos like Veggie Tales. But the older three were young in the early days of Internet. In fact, we were still using pagers and flip phones were the novel new thing in those years. Therefore, it was easier to limit their exposure to technology. We read books, played outside, listened to music, visited art museums, the zoo, parks, and our shared favorite living history museum. :)

    We stretched this out as long as we could, and our kids went without phones until they were away from home a significant amount of time babysitting and of course when they began to drive. They got normal phones with texting, but not smart phones with wifi/internet access until age 18. Again, this was easier because in those years, not every pre-teen had a smartphone.

    This made them weird. Weird homeschoolers. But being homeschoolers, they were used to being weird and so they did not pester us TOO much about it (okay, eventually the 17-year-old wore us down and got an iPhone a few months earlier than her older sister).

    Back to the early years: I think it is worth it to resist. My kids to this day grab books and read and one of the teen girls, age 15, even still loves the outdoors and climbing trees and hiking in parks because of those early minimal-tech days.

    Now, if you walked in our house, you’d laugh. They all have access to laptops and all but the youngest, who is 12, have phones (the 15yo still just has a phone that makes calls and texts, though; she has not gotten a smartphone yet). We turn off WiFi in the evenings when they are done with homework.

    No perfect answers here, only our little story.

    One principle I think is wise: it’s always easier to limit the technology now and introduce it later than the let it infiltrate now and try to take it away.

    • So good to see an example of what this looks like a few years ahead, and I agree with your insight that it’s easier to limit now than to indulge and try to back step later. And turning off WiFi? Well, I hadn’t even thought of that! Do you have any family guidelines for how the kids use their cell phones, like turning off at family dinner, etc?

  6. “If that kind of living isn’t normal, I want us to be weird.” Love it! I’m with you. I am learning to tell my girls that we are to be set apart. Bottom line.

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